Monday, January 28, 2008

Support Portland Public School Workers

Last year, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the workers' reinstatement, and 126 of the 300 PPS employees returned to find our investment in public schools in desperate need of maintenance. It seems when you outsource family wage jobs to temp agencies, you get what you pay for.

Nine months ago, the contract expired for these custodians and nutrition workers (the cafeteria folks) . One sticking point? The School district was "offering" a 34% pay cut.

I'm just returning from a rally, march and picket walk organized by SEIU LOCAL 503, the union which represents laborers from our community who feed our children while at school and maintain the facilities they learn in... honorable occupations indeed. (Remember, I am biased.) About 200 PPS service workers participated with supporters such as myself as well as several folks running for political office.

LOCAL 503 touts the elected leaders who attended the rally, and it was no surprise, though gratifying nonetheless to see my State Senator, Kate Brown (who is running for Oregon Secretary of State as well as my Representative in Salem, Diane Rosenbaum (who is looking to succeed Sen. Brown). Even our Speaker of the House was there, who was the last to join his fellow legislators in the photo above.

His nemesis in his quest (some say anointment) to become Oregon's next junior Senator, "Left Hook" Novick, participated as well. It was an interesting picture. Even though Novick stood among the protesters, he also stood out. Maybe it's his new ad campaign, but as Thom Hartmann recently said on his KPOJ morning show, "[He'd] make a great Senator, and it's got nothing to do with his height."

Rep. Rosenbaum got the workers riled up and reminded us all that, between the two establishment parties, Democrats are leading the fight for working families. This might have been when Spkr. Merkley "spent some time during the rally talking with SEIU President Andy Stern." In reality, I saw a lot of glad handing. Below, candidate for Oregon Treasurer (and bull semen farmer), Ben Westlund wrangles Rep. Rosenbaum as she chats up Andy Stern. Stern also addressed the crowd and in his remarks recalled a time when "workers were not a cost... they were an asset."

With the protesters revved up, there was a march once around the big industrial block just to the south of Portland Public School Board offices. Once back, most of the politicos evidently sought warth inside, but there was plenty of energy among the union members and their supporters to walk a picket until the start of the board meeting. When conflicts like this arise, I wonder how our leaders (in this case, the School Board) can be so out of touch.

On our way home, Martha, Malcolm and Joe reminded me of the nexus between economic justice and peace.

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